Etched Steel



  • When Eternal Weekend comes around, there's always preparation to be done, both in working on a new build to attack the metagame, and in tightening up the decision-making that you'll call on all day long.

    This year was different. For the first time since 2010, Raffaele Forino and I would not both be making the trek to play in Vintage Champs together. Prior commitments had pulled him away, and for the first time in a while, I felt like I was flying solo. It wasn't a comfortable feeling.

    The release of Kaladesh had given me hope that there would be an opportunity to use new cards to attack the metagame in unanticipated ways. Several cards caught my attention, but most notable among them were Foundry Inspector and Chief of the Foundry (which had been previously printed in Magic: Origins as a preview card from Kaladesh).

    Foundry Inspector was very exciting, and got me thinking about Workshops for the first time since the Lodestone restriction. I immediately tried to put together a deck that could abuse Foundry Inspector by presenting the opponent with multiple threats quickly. The first iteration of the deck looked like this:

    1 Black Lotus
    1 Mana Crypt
    1 Mox Sapphire
    1 Mox Jet
    1 Mox Ruby
    1 Mox Emerald
    1 Mox Pearl
    1 Sol Ring
    4 Arcbound Ravager
    4 Phyrexian Revoker
    2 Steel Overseer
    4 Thorn of Amethyst
    4 Chief of the Foundry
    4 Foundry Inspector
    4 Tangle Wire
    1 Lodestone Golem
    4 Triskelion

    3 Thought-Knot Seer

    1 Strip Mine
    1 Tolarian Academy
    4 Ancient Tomb
    4 Mishra's Factory
    4 Mishra's Workshop
    4 Wasteland

    I had taken the various interpretations of one of Javier David's 'Mudhoney' lists, commonly known as Ravager TKS, and I had cut Spheres, swapped out Eldrazi Temples for Mishra's Factories, and cut down one Thought-Knot.

    It didn't take long before a few things became apparent:

    1. Thought-Knots with no Eldrazi Temples are too slow to be effective.
    2. Unrestricted Gush means that every Workshop deck starts with eight Spheres and a Trinisphere.
    3. Foundry Inspector doesn't belong in this deck.
    4. Steel Overseer was more powerful than I thought it was.

    The Thought-Knots were cut because they were too slow. Even when I cheated, running only four Sphere effects instead of the full eight, it was still not something I could consistently drop until the game was mostly decided. Workshop decks don't typically come from behind. They have to attack you where you live, and keep the pressure up. Thought-Knot Seer, an incredibly powerful card that is now a Vintage staple, didn't feel right in this deck.

    I played several games against the URW Mentor list from the September Power Nine Challenge. The deck runs four Swords to Plowshares, two Dack Faydens, a Tear/Tear, a Snapcaster Mage, and a little additional artifact removal in the sideboard. If you're going to build a deck, you need to know if you're able to hit the fastball of the metagame, and URW Mentor was the fastball. I was pounded, over and over, by a counter on a critical spell, a Swords to Plowshares on a critical creature, and one more effect (either a second Swords, the Tear, the Snapcaster flashing something back, or the dreaded Dack Fayden).

    The issue that I had with Foundry Inspector was that every time I saw him in an opener, I wanted to play him immediately. But if I played him immediately, I potentially granted my opponent an additional turn in which they went by, unmolested, able to greatly impact my ability to win the game. Again, Workshop decks aren't decks that usually come from behind. They need immediate pressure, and they need to keep pushing (albeit with lock pieces or creatures) in order to win the game. Foundry Inspector is a very powerful card. Right now, for me, he doesn't really have the perfect home yet. I am impressed with what he's able to do, but the cost of what he does was too much to bear for the time being. I had to move on. Someday, someone will find a way to take advantage of that card, and they will do something very powerful with it. It will probably not be me.

    The games that I won against URW Mentor were games that I managed to present him with more powerful creatures than he was able to handle. I had several games, on the back of Steel Overseer, where I was able to quickly turn the game against him.

    Turn one: Shop, Mox, Thorn, Overseer.
    Turn two: Mishra's Factory, Phyrexian Revoker. End of opponent's turn, pump the team.
    Turn three: Play Chief of the Foundry, activate the Factory, pump the team with Overseer, swing for ten.
    Turn four: Swing for lethal.

    One of the critical lessons in learning how to play Workshops was how to play small, then get big. Everyone loves playing powerful creatures, but there's a reason why 'Six Drop Shops' (as I called it at Champs in 2011 after running into it a few times) wasn't winning. Wurmcoil Engine and friends are great, but when you don't punish him early, you can't punish him late.

    So it was back to the drawing board. And it was without enough time.

    The list that I had put together a week and a half before Champs:

    1 Black Lotus
    1 Chalice of the Void
    1 Mana Crypt
    1 Mox Sapphire
    1 Mox Jet
    1 Mox Ruby
    1 Mox Emerald
    1 Mox Pearl
    1 Sol Ring
    4 Arcbound Ravager
    4 Phyrexian Revoker
    4 Sphere of Resistance
    4 Steel Overseer
    4 Thorn of Amethyst
    4 Chief of the Foundry
    3 Etched Champion
    4 Tangle Wire
    1 Trinisphere
    1 Lodestone Golem

    1 Strip Mine
    1 Tolarian Academy
    4 Ancient Tomb
    4 Mishra's Factory
    4 Mishra's Workshop
    4 Wasteland

    The list wasn't perfect, by any measure, but it addressed a few of the problems that the initial deck had:

    1. Etched Champion was a threat that could dodge blockers, and removal.
    2. The Sphere count was correct.
    3. The deck better understood what it wanted to be; it better walked the line drawn between aggression and control that Shop decks must walk.

    I was tired of my threats being wiped away with a Swords to Plowshares, only to see me quickly lose to Mentor and friends. The deck had a few concessions to that: Arcbound Ravager, Steel Overseer and Chief of the Foundry. The issue that I had with my threats was primarily that they weren't good enough on their own once the best of them was annihilated. All of those cards helped address that, in addition to helping pump the Etched Champion.

    Etched Champion was weak at 2/2. Its ability to blank literally every removal spell that sees play in the format, however, was powerful. A 2/2 wasn't usually enough to win you the game. But at 3/3, or 4/4, it started to become a very credible threat.

    Every other build that I have seen that ran Champion ran equipment. It was a natural concession to Champion's weak power and toughness. Equipment helped bulk up the Champion to turn him into a lethal threat. But each piece of equipment cost me an additional card in my deck that wasn't a piece of disruption, and wasn't something that could directly attack the opponent's life total. That was an issue, and will continue to be an issue. There is no such thing as a 'correct' Workshop list right now that runs anything less than a maxed out Sphere count. I couldn't find the room to run Sword of War and Peace, Sword of Fire and Ice, Umezawa's Jitte, or Cranial Plating. They're all solid cards, and they're all worthy of consideration, but they're likely cards 61-64 in what the maindeck should be.

    So, there I was. I had a deck that I knew to be pretty good, but that I knew would have some flaws. Null Rod would be a big concern, but I felt that, especially with a little work in the sideboard, I'd be able to punch up Null Rod decks under their curve, as I was faster than they were. It wouldn't necessarily be a fun, or easy match. But I felt it was winnable. The biggest flaw with the deck was Oath of Druids.

    If you're a Vintage pilot, and you've been playing for the last few years, you know that while you may not see Oath in the first few rounds, there is a good chance that you're going to run into it if you go deep on the day. Pilots like Greg Fenton and Brian Kelly, among others, have innovated with Oath in ways that I couldn't have considered. I didn't want to go into Champs with a weak Oath match, so because I didn't have the time that I needed to test, to build a sideboard, and to potentially address the issues that I'd have with Oath, I shelved the deck.

    I picked up White Eldrazi, and toyed with it for a few days. I asked Brass Man for a list that I later put down when I realized that I had no idea how to board with it (thank you though, Andy). I played a very vanilla list, poorly on the day, and was dead by round four. To be fair, my pairings were pretty brutal. That said, when you're on, you're able to rise to the occasion and play with the best. When you're not, you're going to be run over pretty quickly.

    Champs came and went, and it was time to lick my wounds. I have missed playing Vintage a great deal, even as I have felt tremendously salty about everything that has happened. I said on Facebook that I didn't feel like paying the bill for dual lands that I was sent once Lodestone Golem was restricted. Over the summer, I started paying that bill, but that's another point entirely I suppose.

    I wanted to play. I had a deck that I knew needed work. Top Deck Games was having an event on 11/19, and I wanted to go. So Jimmy Hangley, Greg Fenton and I made our way down to Top Deck Games yesterday, and we played.

    Forgive me for the abbreviated rundown, but here we go:

    Round One: Mark Hornung (Powerless G/B Eldrazi)

    Mark is one of the recent great champions that we have had, even if he's a dirty Eagles fan. I had enjoyed breakfast with him earlier, and knew him to be on Eldrazi, though I didn't know what tech he had that he was going to throw my way. Luckily, I had two openers with Lotus, powered out fast threats and punched up his mana enough that he was never able to come over the top at me.

    One of the things that I do enjoy about this deck, as compared to other Shop Aggro decks of the past, is that the deck can grow well. Usually, when the game stalls, you're in a top-deck war. When the games stalled for me, I was presenting a more imposing threat each turn, as my Steel Overseers and unnecessary artifacts sacrificed to Arcbound Ravager created ever larger threats for my opponents.

    Round Two: Stephen Harvey - Joseph Bogaard's U/W Landstill (I think)

    We trade games one and two, and come to a critical point in game three where he has just played an Energy Flux, with a Pithing Needle holding down my Mishra's Factories. I had put him to 16 off one swing with a Steel Overseer pumped Chief of the Foundry. I lose everything but two Chiefs and a Thorn, presenting him with near lethal. A Wasteland from him nails an Ancient Tomb, and shrinks my board down to the one lonely Chief, who continues bashing away. Eventually, he gets there. Whew.

    Round Three: Matt Murray - Salvager Oath

    Game one was not a lot of fun. I had opened up with a powerful starter that presented an Etched Champion, Arcbound Ravager, and a Revoker. It was met with a Mox Pearl and an Oath of Druids. Oops.

    Games two and three were aggressive hands that either drew into, or initially possessed the second Grafdigger's Cage. The second Cage got Matt both times.

    Oath is a truly awful match. It needs a slew of work, more than I could put in before the event. I didn't learn anything in this match, other than that I needed to figure out the Oath match if I ever intended on bringing this deck to another event.

    Round Four - Travis Compton - Dredge

    Travis is a local, and a friend who is always on Dredge. We're both 3-0 at this point, and while I didn't really want to draw, I didn't want to potentially win and knock a friend down. I offered the draw before game one, but it was decided that it would be better to play.

    We play a very, very close game one where an Etched Champion has been pumped by an Overseer to be lethal on the following turn, as it swung past zombie tokens and Narcomoebas. On his last turn, Travis dredged the Dread Return that he needed for Elesh Norn, pumping his zombies up to lethal, and killing my 3/2 Phyrexian Revoker.

    I don't really remember game two. I just know that it featured multiple hate pieces and a fast clock.

    Game three had me open with a Wasteland, a nice balance of threats and mana and a Tormod's Crypt. Unmask removed my Crypt, which had me feeling like I had to be a dog here, but he didn't have a great deal of pressure, and more hate showed up. A Grafdigger's Cage helped seal the deal, as my Steel Overseer ensured that my team was bigger than his, and eventually allowed me to swing for lethal a few turns later.

    Rounds Five and Six - Draw

    I didn't think that the deck was going to go this far, but at 4-0-2, I was either the second or third seed going into the top eight. At this point, I had nearly exhausted my capacity to play decent Magic, and was very much looking forward to the car ride home. I hoped for a top eight split and a quick car ride back. Three of our eight decided that they wanted to play it out. So it would be at least one more round.

    Top Eight - Joe Brennan - URW Mentor

    Joe Brennan has, incredibly, only been in the Vintage community for about a year or so, but he has already become a staple member of our community. In addition to being a talented player, Joe also happens to be a really nice guy. I had only played him once before, but I had seen him play, and I knew that this would not be an easy match.

    My opener for game one had Sol Ring, Mishra's Workshop, two Moxen, an Etched Champion, and more. When my Sol Ring was Misstepped, I played the Shop and landed my Etched Champion. My Workshop quickly bit the dust to a Strip Mine, and I was suddenly left with an uncomfortable decision: Joe had a Tundra in play, with no more mana. I had two Moxen and my 2/2 Champion. In hand I have Sphere of Resistance, two Phyrexian Revokers and a Chief of the Foundry. If I play the Sphere of Resistance, I push him off all his two drops and ensure that he has to have a second land to start the Preordain engine going. If I play the Revoker, blind, I could name Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, or a few other cards that concerned me (DACK FAYDEN), but they'd be blind names, and, thus, unreliable. I made what I believe to be the correct call, and played the Sphere of Resistance. I proceeded to brick on lands for the next six turns, and died because of it. Oops. I still think that it was the right play. When it was made, Joe was at 16, which meant that the Champion would have to do quite a bit of work in order to close the game out. It led me to believe that more mana was necessary for a win. This time around, it didn't show up.

    I don't remember game two. I'm getting old.

    Game three was an interesting one. Joe seemed to debate the hand for a little while, and that meant that there was an issue with it. This usually means one of two things when you're playing Shops; either the opponent doesn't have counter-magic, or they're light on mana. Joe opened on a Mox Sapphire with a fetch for a basic Island. I opened on a Shop, Ruby, Overseer, Sphere. I followed with a Thorn. Then another Sphere. I played a Revoker on Joe's Sapphire. I played a Factory, and kept pumping away with the Overseer. I had lethal shortly thereafter.

    Our top four was Greg Fenton, Travis Compton, John Callahan and I. We split, and I, blessedly, got to go home.

    I got lucky several times throughout the day. It's part of the game, and yesterday it broke my way. Tomorrow it may not. That said, the deck was fun, if imperfect, and I hope to put some more time in with it when I feel sufficiently motivated.

    I bought my twelfth dual land today, a German FBB Tundra. I look forward to battling with you as a fellow blue mage again in 2017.

    Hope to see you all at an event sometime soon!



  • Congratulations, Nick. This was an excellent, excellent write-up. It was a great examination of the format and an expertly crafted tournament report. Thank you for sharing.



  • Thanks for the write up, it was just good to see you back playing again!



  • This is a wonderful report, thank you for writing it! Very, very insightful.



  • @Prospero So I didn't get all the way to the end of this on my first read. Are you really switching to blue decks for next year?! Thats like santa claus quitting christmas so he can go be the easter bunny. Whatever you end up running in 2017 is less important than that whether youre running something period.



  • @rikter I've picked up a set of Seas, a set of Volcs, three Tundras and a Trop. I've bought Deltas, Drains, Forces and more. Mentors and whatnot come next. If it weren't so hard to find everything I want in German foil, and if I had some more disposable income, I'd be done already.



  • @Prospero Very nice. Ive found a lot of enjoyment in being able to switch decks to something I find intriguing. I did shops for awhile, mentor a bit, storm and now dredge. You give up value by having less reps per deck than a dedicated practitioner, but I think the breadth of experience can offset. Plus having a deck youre happy playing regardless is priceless.


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